Political Science

Is it clever or stupid of us to be avoiding the problem of “overeducation” in our Army officer corps?

As shown previously, the higher an officer’s cognitive ability, the lower that officer’s chance at early promotion and battalion command selection. As a curious anecdote, the promotion rate to colonel for officers with PhDs was lower than the Army average from 2011 to 2013. Surprisingly, the Army does not actively invest in advanced civilian education for its personnel managers or OES instructors. In the 1980’s, the Army sent as many of 7,000 officers per year to graduate school. The Army reduced that to 415 in the 1990s. Currently, the Army sends 600- 700. A not-so-long ago discussion at the joint flag officer orientation course, typically referred to as “Capstone,” revolved around how much education “was too much” for senior officers. The quorum of newly selected flag officers from all services concluded that a public school or distance learning masters was fine, but certainly not a PhD or Ivy League masters.

That is from Spain, Mohundro, and Banks (pdf), via Paul Musgrave.

Following up on my earlier post on Syria, Alexander Burns sends me this very interesting email:

Dear Professor Cowen,

Thanks for your reply tweet regarding your Marginal Revolution post on modelling Syria / Islamic State. I enjoy your books and blog.

I’m writing a thesis at Australia’s Monash University that synthesises Jack Snyder’s work on strategic culture / strategic subcultures with Martha Crenshaw and Jacob Shapiro’s work on terrorist organisations. Two recent presentations:

1.       Mid-Candidature Review Panel slides: http://www.alexburns.net/Files/MCR.pptx

2.       Monash SPS Symposium Presentation on Islamic State: https://t.co/Ju11zvFBSP

Several weeks ago I discussed Islamic State with my Mid-Candidature Review panel whilst also reading Gary Antonacci’s Dual Momentum Investing and the Dan Zanger interview in Mark Minervini’s Momentum Masters interviews book. It struck me that Islamic State were like momentum traders for several reasons:

(1) Islamic State have grown rapidly in foreign mujahideen; control of parts of northern Iraq and Syria; and have grown in power projection capabilities. This dynamic is very much like successful momentum traders have worked in a financial markets context using Jesse Livermore’s trend-following approach, William O’Neil’s CANSLIM system, or Paul Tudor Jones II’s speculative activity in Eurodollar and foreign exchange markets.

(2) Islamic State have to-date survived aerial bombardments and have exploited a range of weaknesses in their enemies (e.g. jihadist beheading videos as psychological warfare against the Iraqi Army; Turkey’s borders with Iraq and Syria; and alliance manoeuvers around the Assad regime and the Syrian civil war).

(3) Events like the capture of Mosul, Iraq; combat experience in the Syrian civil war; involvement in oil black markets; and the proclamation on 29th June 2014 of a worldwide caliphate have momentum-like qualities, particularly in terms of creating the psychological climate for nation-building.

(4) Islamic State has outperformed their peer jihadist groups in their growth and ideological impact.

(5) Islamic State’s use of social media to amplify ideological propaganda is more hypermodern and sophisticated than other terrorist groups.

(6) Their rapid growth has led to spillover effects such as the refugee crisis in Europe.

(7) The Western media’s concerns about Islamic State — and their cultural impact — feel like the 1998-2000 part of the 1995-2000 dotcom speculative bubble, albeit in a counterterrorism context.

(8) Your perspective on Islamic State as hypermodern may also be relevant to the proto-Marxist work on accelerationism and postcapitalism (Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’ Inventing the Future; Steven Shaviro’s No Speed Limit; and Benjamin Noys’ Malign Velocities): contemporary terrorist groups operate in a different political / technological / ‘average is over’ context.

With his permission I reproduced the email as is, though added in a few extra paragraph breaks for ease of reading.

I can’t say I understand this FT article so well, but I suppose that is the point.  Which are two groups/persons implicated in buying oil from ISIS, or otherwise enabling such trades to take place?

First, Syria.  Or is that “Syria.”

Second, the head of the world chess federation, namely Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: “he is best known for his belief in aliens — he has repeatedly recounted an instance when he was abducted in 1997 by “people in yellow spacesuits”.”  And this:

Mr Ilyumzhinov has a diverse business empire, stretching from sugar to banking, and a network of contacts to match. He regularly meets the Dalai Lama, and he played chess with Libyan president Muammer Gaddafi shortly before his overthrow.

He also has been working with the Syrian central bank.  Here is NYT coverage, here are other sources.  As the old Haitian proverb states, if you’re not confused, you don’t know what’s going on…

My thoughts on this topic are extremely tentative, hypothetical I would say, but I’ve seen so much other bad commentary I thought I would lay out a possible “model” for what is going on.  I offer this with what I consider to be more than just caveats and qualifications, if you wish simply consider this an exercise in constructing some possibilities to think through.  These are “in my opinion the most likely to be true, compared to alternatives,” but still quite low in terms of their absolute chance of being true.  Here goes:

1. I don’t view Islam as essential to the conflict, though it helps explain some of the second-order causes and effects.

2. I think first in terms of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, which also saw the collapse of an untenable-once-placed-under-pressure nation-state, followed by atrocities.  Building a successful nation state seems to be a “win big, fail big” proposition, and both Yugoslavia and Syria failed.  The West also had its failures leading up to and during the two World Wars, though with a happyish ending.

3. Syria also has become a playground for a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia (among others).  Being a playground for a proxy war is a bad place to be, just ask Vietnam, El Salvador, or Nicaragua.  The mix of #2 and #3 accounts for many of the key features of the crisis, plus as conflict proceeds trust frays and human beings are brutalized, worsening the dynamic.

3b. The proxy war heated up due to a rising Iran, a falling Saudi Arabia, and the collapse of creative ambiguity over roles and responsibilities in what were previously buffer zones.

4. It is very hard to model ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, whatever you wish to call it (the most thoughtful approach I have seen is from Shadi Hamid).  Maybe the group is one fraction crazies, one fraction semi-rational power brokers, and one fraction “momentum traders” who wanted higher status for their local terrorizing and never expected it to get this far and simply could not climb off and stop.  It is hard for groups to back out of strategies which have delivered consistent institutional growth.  In any case, I don’t think of the group as having transitive preferences, even in the intra-profile sense, much less the Arrovian inter-profile sense.

5. I view ISIS as “modern,” or even “hypermodern,” rather than a “return to barbarism.”  The medieval Arabic world was more advanced than Europe in most ways, yet still Islamic ideologically.

6. Islam has the important secondary effect of tying Syria and other Middle Eastern conflicts to disaffected (Muslim) groups living in Western Europe, most of all France and Belgium.  Labor market deregulation, people!

7. Islam has another significant effect.  By melding the political and the theological, it renders the conflict more complex and harder to resolve, and that effect is fundamental to the ideological structure of Islam.  It also helps motivate the proxy war sides taken by Iran (Shii’te) and the Saudis (Sunni).  But note this: when the political order is not up for grabs, Islam does not have the same destabilizing effects.  The merging of the legal and the theological therefore may create greater stability in some equilibria (e.g.,much of Ottoman history, the Gulf monarchies), while less stability in others.

8. The Laffer curve, resource extraction path of ISIS will weaken with time, causing a fiscal starvation and thus a further move toward mean-reducing, variance-increasing strategies.

9. This won’t end well.  Now go read a book on the Taiping rebellion.

Your thoughts are welcome, please try to stick with the analytical and avoid posturing.  And what Russia is up to in Syria is another mystery, best considered another time.

My latest piece is on the Syrian refugees and I’m delighted that it’s in Playboy. Next step is to get invited to the Mansion. Here’s the opening:

refugeeEven 4-year-old Syrian orphans are too dangerous to welcome to the United States, says New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. What sort of man turns away desperate orphans out of fear? Christie’s words and actions are shameful and unbecoming of a great nation—as are those of 25 other governors who said they will work to keep Syrian refugees from moving to their state. Is America no longer the home of the brave?

Since 9/11 we have been told many times that our nation is at war. Our troops understand, and they have fought bravely whenever and wherever they have been called upon. Not once have they backed down or refused the call. Yet, when faced with the risk of orphan refugees, some of our leaders protest that the risk is too great. How can we ask so much of our troops but so little of ourselves?

Do read the whole thing. The link is surprisingly safe for work, at least when I clicked, but use at your own risk.

Between 1989 and 2010, U.S. attorneys seized an estimated $12.6 billion in asset forfeiture cases. The growth rate during that time averaged +19.4% annually. In 2010 alone, the value of assets seized grew by +52.8% from 2009 and was six times greater than the total for 1989. Then by 2014, that number had ballooned to roughly $4.5 billion for the year, making this 35% of the entire number of assets collected from 1989 to 2010 in a single year. According to the FBI, the total amount of goods stolen by criminals in 2014 burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses. This means that the police are now taking more assets than the criminals [emphasis added].

That is from Martin Armstrong, via Noah Smith and Michael Hendrix.  While private sector robberies are underreported by a considerable amount, this is nonetheless a startling contrast.

Can this be true?

Here is the full transcript, video, and podcast of the chat.  Cliff was great from beginning to end.  The first thirty minutes or so were an overview of “momentum” and “value” trading strategies, and to what extent they violate an efficient markets hypothesis.  Much of the rest covered:

…disagreeing with Eugene Fama, Marvel vs. DC, the inscrutability of risk, high frequency trading, the economics of Ayn Rand, bubble logic, and why never to share a gym with Cirque du Soleil.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: I think of you as doing a kind of metaphysics of human nature. On one side, there’s behavioral economics. They put people in the lab, one-off situations, untrained people. But here it’s repeated data, it’s over long periods of time, it’s out of sample. There’s real money on the line, and this still seems to work.

When you back out, what’s the actual vision of human nature? What’s the underlying human imperfection that allows it to be the case, that trading on momentum across say a 3 to 12 month time window, sorry, investing on momentum, will work? What’s with us as people? What’s the core human imperfection?

ASNESS: This is going to be embarrassing because we don’t have a problem of no explanation. We have a problem with too many explanations. Of course, we can observe the data. The explanations you have to fight over and argue over. I will give you the two most prominent explanations for the efficacy of momentum.

The first is called underreaction. Simple idea that comes from behavioral psychology, the phenomenon there called anchoring and adjustment. News comes out. Price moves but not all the way. People update their priors but not fully efficiently. Therefore, just observing the price move is not going to move the same amount again but there’s some statistical tendency to continue.

Take a wild guess what our second best, in my opinion, explanation for momentum’s efficacy is? It’s called overreaction. When your two best explanations are over- and underreaction, you have somewhat of an issue, I admit. Overreaction is much more of a positive feedback. It works over time because people in fact do chase prices. So if you do it somewhat systematically and before them you make some money.

One of the hard things you find out in many fields but I found out in empirical finance is those might be the right explanations but they’re not mutually exclusive.

And here is from the overrated/underrated part of the chat:

COWEN: …In science fiction, the author Robert Heinlein.

ASNESS: Early stuff, underrated. Later stuff, overrated.

COWEN: What’s your favorite?

ASNESS: That is a really — Methuselah’s Children.

COWEN: Ah, good pick.

ASNESS: I could have gone with the obvious. I’m a bit of a libertarian. I could have gone with, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. It’s his most famously libertarian book.

COWEN: But it doesn’t age so well.

ASNESS: No, no. I like Methuselah’s Children.

This was the funniest segment:

ASNESS: I live in Greenwich, Connecticut. In some parts of the world, if you said, “my daddy runs a hedge fund,” I’d say, “what’s a hedge fund?” In Greenwich, Connecticut, the kids say, “what kind of hedge fund is your daddy running? Is he event arbitrage? Trend following? What does dad do?”

Interesting throughout, as they are known to say…

That is the subject of a new paper by Devin Caughey, Christopher Warshaw, and Yiqing Xu (pdf).  It turns out that before the 1980s it hardly mattered at all which party controlled a state government.  These days it matters much more, but how much?

Even today, for example, electing a Democratic rather than Republican governor should be expected to increase monthly welfare payments by only $1-2 per recipient, and to increase by just half a percentage point the proportion of policies on which a state has the liberal policy option. These eff ects are small relative to policy diff erences across states. They are also small relative to the partisan divergence in legislative voting records. These results thus partially assuage the normative concern that partisan polarization has led to extreme policy swings, degrading the congruence between policy outcomes and citizens’ preferences.

OK, you can all go home and relax now…and just to be clear, these estimates are adjusting for what is already the ideology of the state.

Some other things to note from this paper:

1. The effect of having a Democratic governor seems to be rising.

2. Whatever Democratic governors accomplish, they accomplish in their first two years in office.  Policy effects do not seem to cumulate over time.

3. “The estimated policy effect of a switch in unified party control is one-twentieth the size of the typical difference between states…”

The bottom line?  Worry about the culture people, not about the election.

From an email from the Harvard Kennedy School:

“Identifying Barriers to Muslim Integration in France”
Adida, Claire L.; Laitin, David D.; Valfort, Marie-Anne. Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 2010, Vol. 107, No. 52, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015550107.

Abstract: “Is there a Muslim disadvantage in economic integration for second-generation immigrants to Europe? Previous research has failed to isolate the effect that religion may have on an immigrant family’s labor market opportunities because other factors, such as country of origin or race, confound the result. This paper uses a correspondence test in the French labor market to identify and measure this religious effect. The results confirm that in the French labor market, anti-Muslim discrimination exists: a Muslim candidate is 2.5 times less likely to receive a job interview callback than is his or her Christian counterpart. A high-n survey reveals, consistent with expectations from the correspondence test, that second-generation Muslim households in France have lower income compared with matched Christian households. The paper thereby contributes to both substantive debates on the Muslim experience in Europe and methodological debates on how to measure discrimination. Following the National Academy of Sciences’ 2001 recommendations on combining a variety of methodologies and applying them to real-world situations, this research identifies, measures, and infers consequences of discrimination based on religious affiliation, controlling for potentially confounding factors, such as race and country of origin.”

There are other interesting papers at the top link, many of them topical with regard to recent events.  This article, by the way, argues that 9-11 decreases the rate of Muslim assimilation in the United States.

The paper is by David Hugh-Jones, and this is from the research summary:

The study examined whether people from different countries were more or less honest and how this related to a country’s economic development. More than 1500 participants from 15 countries took part in an online survey involving two incentivised experiments, designed to measure honest behaviour.

Firstly, they were asked to flip a coin and state whether it landed on ‘heads’ or ‘tails’. They knew if they reported that it landed on heads, they would be rewarded with $3 or $5. If the proportion reporting heads was more than 50 per cent in a given country, this indicated that people were being dishonest…

The countries studied – Brazil, China, Greece, Japan, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States, Argentina, Denmark, the United Kingdom, India, Portugal, South Africa, and South Korea – were chosen to provide a mix of regions, levels of development and levels of social trust.

The study’s author Dr David Hugh-Jones, of UEA’s School of Economics, found evidence for dishonesty in all the countries, but that levels varied significantly across them. For example, estimated dishonesty in the coin flip ranged from 3.4 per cent in the UK to 70 per cent in China. In the quiz, respondents in Japan were the most honest, followed by the UK, while those in Turkey were the least truthful. Participants were also asked to predict the average honesty of those from other countries by guessing how many respondents out of 100 from a particular country would report heads in the coin flip test. However, participants’ beliefs about other countries’ honesty did not reflect reality.

This is interesting:

“Differences in honesty were found between countries, but this did not necessarily correspond to what people expected,” he said. “Beliefs about honesty seem to be driven by psychological features, such as self-projection. Surprisingly, people were more pessimistic about the honesty of people in their own country than of people in other countries.

And consider this from Hugh Jones:

“I suggest that the relationship between honesty and economic growth has been weaker over the past 60 years and there is little evidence for a link between current growth and honesty,” said Dr Hugh-Jones. “One explanation is that when institutions and technology are underdeveloped, honesty is important as a substitute for formal contract enforcement. Countries that develop cultures putting a high value on honesty are able to reap economic gains. Later, this economic growth itself improves institutions and technology, making contracts easier to monitor and enforce, so that a culture of honesty is no longer necessary for further growth.”

The research paper is here, and for the pointers I thank Charles Klingman and Samir Varma.

Jones, by the way, makes it clear there are a variety of kinds of honesty, and inferences from any single test should be limited.  For Japan in particular the measured level of honesty depends critically on which test is applied.  The real lesson of the study may simply be that most groups are dishonest, and people are not even honest with themselves about their views of the dishonesty of others.  Honesty depends a good deal on context too.  On some of these questions, see some skeptical comments from Kevin Drum.

If you are looking for simple correlations: “…at individual level, there is no evidence that religious adherence is associated with honesty.”  How about having a Ph.d.?

U.S. counterterrorism officials reported in February that more than 20,000 foreign fighters have joined the fray in Syria to fight with the rebels, with most going to help the Islamic State. Of these, 150 or so are from the United States and over 3,000 are from the West.

According to British scholar Peter Neumann, the Syria conflict has generated more foreign fighters than Afghanistan, post-2003 Iraq, Somalia, Mali and other fields of jihad combined.

That is from Daniel Byman at Monkey Cage, with other points at the link.

I am only on p.90 but I will be reading this one all the way through.  Here is one excerpt from the opening bits:

The following morning, Mrs Thatcher met Deng Xiaoping.  Those present at the meeting were conscious of an air of unease and of two formidable individuals confronting one another.  ‘They were mirror images,’ recalled Percy Cradock.  Robin Butler remembered ‘a great diatribe’ by Deng, with Mrs Thatcher being ‘pretty equally aggressive.’  Deng started hawking, and expectorating into the spittoon which was uncomfortably near to her; ‘She moved her legs. It threw her.’

The book covers 1982 to 1987, the peak of Thatcher’s power and influence.  Here is a rave review from Bruce Anderson, very much deserved.  I am very glad I paid the extra shipping fee from Amazon.uk, you also might try ordering it here at elevated prices, very much worth it, one of the books of the year.

Indonesia’s anti-drugs agency has proposed building a prison on an island guarded by crocodiles to hold death row convicts, an official said, an idea that wouldn’t be out of place in a James Bond film.

The proposal is the pet project of anti-drugs chief Budi Waseso, who plans to visit various parts of the archipelago in his search for fierce reptiles to guard the jail.

“We will place as many crocodiles as we can there. I will search for the most ferocious type of crocodile,” he was quoted as saying by local news website Tempo.

Waseso said that crocodiles would be better at preventing drug traffickers from escaping prison as they could not be bribed — unlike human guards.

There is more here, via Charles Klingman and Mark Thorson, try this Bond movie clip too.

An article in The Wall Street Journal explores higher education as a lobbying force, and find colleges to have large and effective representation in Washington. Based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the article finds that higher education had 1,020 lobbyists in 2014, third among industries (after pharmaceuticals and electronics). In terms of effectiveness, the article notes the extent to which the Obama administration pulled back on its initial plans for rating colleges.

That is from InsideHigherEd, there is nothing more at the link.  And here is another, meatier piece from the same issue, perhaps not totally unrelated, excerpt:

…they [the researchers] found that on only one of the five measures, cognitive complexity of the course work, did the elite colleges in the study outperform the nonelite institutions.

On two, standards and expectations of the course work and the level of the instructors’ subject matter knowledge, there were no meaningful differences by prestige level. On two others, though — the extent to which the instructors “surfaced” students’ prior knowledge and supported changes in their views, the lower-prestige institutions outperformed the elite ones.

That is from a new study which tries to measure, through classroom visits, whether classes at elite colleges are really any better.  That article has many interesting points, including the usual evasive reply from commentators as to whether this really measures anything (“If I’m teaching a 15-week course, does one class really represent the quality of my teaching?” — TC says yes).  Believe it or not, three elite institutions actually permitted such visits to take place, even though they presumably had nowhere to go but down.  I cannot however find a copy of the paper on-line.

Please note by the way that I still adhere to my transformational/acculturation theory of higher education.

That is the new book by Daniel P. Todes, the first sentence is:

Contrary to legend, Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) never trained a dog to salivate to the sound of a bell.  In over three decades of research and tens of thousands of experimental trials, he and his coworkers used a bell only in rare, unimportant circumstances.  Indeed, the iconic bell would have proven totally useless to his real goal, which required precise control over the quality and duration of stimuli (he most frequently employed a metronome, a harmonium, a buzzer, and electrical shock).

Nor was Pavlov a behaviorist, to address another common misconception.

This superb book — one of the year’s best — is 731 pages of original material on Russia, Russian communism, Russian science, and of course the life of Pavlov.  The TLS Stephen Lovell review of the book had a good line: “Controls were unthinkable: all the dogs were individuals.”

Overkill for some, recommended for many.